Q: I have been thinking a lot about how Ray Hunt or Buck Brannaman start a young horse versus the classical dressage gradually getting them used to surcingle, then light saddle until they are on the longe in a snaffle and side reins- often taking three months on the longe before slowly introducing a rider. The Buck/Ray/Tom style gets a horse undersaddle and working gates and dragging logs and being "useful" in a short period of time. The longing for three months develops a horse physically before introducing a rider, which makes sense to me too. The dressage horses I've seen developed the classical way (correctly) are not spookish- they handle a show like Devon which is similar to a rock concert! So it isn't like those horses are not prepared emotionally. Developing a horse for art versus developing a horse to work on the ranch. I LOVE BOTH!! ;-) Can you give your thoughts?
A: Interesting question for sure. I have been around both methods.
Horses are amazing and can learn successfully from any system that is clear and makes sense to them. What is important is that they are prepared to be able to do what is expected of them. The expectations are different for a ranch or the show ring. The grand Champion at Devon may suddenly not be so successful if asked to hold a cow, and the ranch horse may not be so successful if suddenly expected to move through his back in a huge trot.
Every now and again a horse is not able to be successful and that is when it is important to have more tools. For example:
- A ranch horse who just can't stand still, maybe because he is in physical pain in his back from poor posture
- A show horse who can't move well because he is in fear
That is when each needs the tools from the other.
What I do when I start my own horses is a little of both approaches! Although I don't use sidereins, I do care about posture and will pay more attention to balance and movement before I ride them. Also along the way, relaxation, exposure to obstacles, and purpose are super important, too.
My good friend and neighbor successfully starts horses the more 'traditional dressage' way. The past couple of years we each started some horses at the same time. Her horses moved in a better posture sooner, but mine could be ridden out and about in different circumstances sooner. And as time goes by they are becoming more the same ... every good trainer can potentially create a mentally, emotionally and physically sound horse, no matter what the system (I mean the valid systems, not the ones done by horse-haters).
Each system may have different priorities at different stages. It is important before choosing any system to really understand what it is meant to lead to, and to really understand horses so that you can recognize when a horse needs something else.